Smartphone use undermine interactions at dinner

While “Take your elbows off the dinner table,” is a common refrain for many families, people may soon add, “take your phone off the table” to the list, too. According to research people with smartphones present during dinner time report less enjoyment than those who kept their phones away.

There’s been the assumption that engaging in phone use during social interactions would dampen happiness, but this is the first field experiment to gather emprical data to prove the point.

Researchers from the University of British Columbia and University of Virginia found participants derived less enjoyment from a meal with friends and family when phones were present than when phones were absent.

Your brain reveals who your friends are

You may perceive the world the way your friends do, according to a Dartmouth study finding that friends have similar neural responses to real-world stimuli and these similarities can be used to predict who your friends are.

The researchers found that you can predict who people are friends with just by looking at how their brains respond to video clips. Friends had the most similar neural activity patterns, followed by friends-of-friends who, in turn, had more similar neural activity than people three degrees removed (friends-of-friends-of-friends).

Published in Nature Communications, the study is the first of its kind to examine the connections between the neural activity of people within a real-world social network, as they responded to real-world stimuli, which in this case was watching the same set of videos.

The findings revealed that neural response similarity was strongest among friends, and this pattern appeared to manifest across brain regions involved in emotional responding, directing one’s attention and high-level reasoning. Even when the researchers controlled for variables, including left-handed- or right-handedness, age, gender, ethnicity, and nationality, the similarity in neural activity among friends was still evident. The team also found that fMRI response similarities could be used to predict not only if a pair were friends but also the social distance between the two.

The research team plans to explore if we naturally gravitate toward people who see the world the same way we do, if we become more similar once we share experiences or if both dynamics reinforce each other.

(image: Carolyn Parkinson)

Open-access database on human cultures

An international team of researchers has developed a website at d-place.org to help answer long-standing questions about the forces that shaped human cultural diversity.

D-PLACE – the Database of Places, Language, Culture and Environment – is an expandable, open access database that brings together a dispersed body of information on the language, geography, culture and environment of more than 1 400 human societies. It comprises information mainly on pre-industrial societies that were described by ethnographers in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

D-PLACE allows users to search by cultural practice (e.g., monogamy vs. polygamy), environmental variable (e.g. elevation, mean annual temperature), language family (e.g. Indo-European, Austronesian), or region (e.g. Siberia). The search results can be displayed on a map, a language tree or in a table, and can also be downloaded for further analysis.

It aims to enable researchers to investigate the extent to which patterns in cultural diversity are shaped by different forces, including shared history, demographics, migration/diffusion, cultural innovations, and environmental and ecological conditions.

D-PLACE was developed by an international team of scientists interested in cross-cultural research. It includes researchers from Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human history in Jena Germany, University of Auckland, Colorado State University, University of Toronto, University of Bristol, Yale, Human Relations Area Files, Washington University in Saint Louis, University of Michigan, American Museum of Natural History, and City University of New York.

The diverse team included: linguists; anthropologists; biogeographers; data scientists; ethnobiologists; and evolutionary ecologists, who employ a variety of research methods including field-based primary data collection; compilation of cross-cultural data sources; and analyses of existing cross-cultural datasets.

d-place graphic

(Image courtesy of Kathryn Kirby/University of Toronto)

Narcissists post and care

Korean researchers studied how narcissism relates to a person’s selfie-posting behavior on Social Networking Sites such as Facebook and interest in the comments they receive back.

The authors describe the link between degree of narcissism and self-promotion through selfies in the article “Hide-and-Seek: Narcissism and ‘Selfie’-Related Behavior” published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, a peer-reviewed journal from Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers.

Jung-Ah Lee and Yongjun Sung, PhD, Korea University (Seoul, South Korea), found that individuals with a higher degree of narcissism have a more favorable attitude toward the act of posting selfies. Their involvement in the comments received to their own selfies and their interest in other people’s selfies did not, however mean that they were more likely to provide feedback.

Are you Facebook dependent?

What drives you to Facebook? News? Games? Feedback on your posts? The chance to meet new friends?

If any of these hit home, you might have a Facebook dependency. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, says Amber Ferris, an assistant professor of communication at The University of Akron’s Wayne College.

Ferris, who studies Facebook user trends, says the more people use Facebook to fulfill their goals, the more dependent on it the become. She is quick to explain this dependency is not equivalent to an addiction. Rather, the reason why people use Facebook determines the level of dependency they have on the social network. The study found those who use Facebook to meet new people were the most dependent on Facebook overall.

To identify dependency factors, Ferris and Erin Hollenbaugh, an associate professor of communication studies at Kent State University at Stark, studied 301 Facebook users between the ages of 18 and 68 who post on the site at least once a month. They found that people who perceive Facebook as helpful in gaining a better understanding of themselves go to the site to meet new people and to get attention from others. Also, people who use Facebook to gain a deeper understanding of themselves tend to have agreeable personalities, but lower self-esteem than others.

Ferris explains that some users observe how others cope with problems and situations similar to their own “and get ideas on how to approach others in important and difficult situations.”

Ferris and Hollenbaugh presented “A Uses and Gratifications Approach to Exploring Antecedents to Facebook Dependency” at the National Communication Association conference in Las Vegas in November. They say other Facebook dependency signs point to users’ needs for information or entertainment. In other words, a user knows about the local festival scheduled for this weekend thanks to Facebook.

In their previous studies, “Facebook Self-disclosure: Examining the Role of Traits, Social Cohesion, and Motives” (2014) and “Predictors of Honesty, Intent, and Valence of Facebook Self-disclosure” (2015) published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, Ferris and Hollenbaugh also uncovered personality traits common among specific types of Facebook users.

For example, people who use Facebook to establish new relationships tend to be extroverted. Extroverts are more open to sharing their personal information online, but are not always honest with their disclosures, Ferris says.

The most positive posts online come from those who have high self-esteem, according to Ferris.

“Those who post the most and are the most positive in posts do so to stay connected with people they already know and to gain others’ attention,” Ferris says. “This makes a lot of sense – if you are happy with your life, you are more likely to want to share that happiness with others on social media.”

Envy key motivator behind many Facebook posts, but site hurts mental well-being

A new study by Sauder School of Business Professor Izak Benbasat and his collaborators shows that envy is a key motivator behind Facebook posts and that contributes to a decrease in mental well-being among users.

Creating a vicious cycle of jealousy and self-importance, the researchers say Facebook leads users to feel their lives are unfulfilling by comparison, and react by creating posts that portray their best selves.

“Social media participation has been linked to depression, anxiety and narcissistic behaviour, but the reasons haven’t been well-explained,” said Benbasat, Sauder’s Distinguished Professor of Information Systems. “We found envy to be the missing link.”

According to Benbasat, travel photos are a leading contributor to Facebook envy, pushing friends to post their most perfect pictures. He says the unrealistic portrayal of life is not motivated by the desire to make others jealous, but rather a need to compete and keep up appearances.

Benbasat says the functionality of social networks encourages envy-inducing behaviour, and that’s unlikely to change.

“Sharing pictures and stories about the highlights of your life – that’s so much of what Facebook is for, so you can’t take that away,” he said. “But I think it’s important for people to know what impact it can have on their well-being. Parents and teachers should take note as young people can be particularly vulnerable to the dark side of social media.”

The study, “Why Following Friends Can Hurt You: Empirical Investigation of the Effects of Envy on Social Networking Sites”, was published in the latest issue of Information Systems Research.

Uncontrolled use of Facebook

A new study shows that the combination of social anxiety and the need for social assurance by feeling part of a group increases the risk for excessive and uncontrolled use of Facebook, which can negatively affect school performance, work, and one’s health and well-being, as described in an article published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, a peer-reviewed journal. The article is available free on the Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking (www.liebertpub.com/cyber) website until November 7, 2015.

In “Hooked on Facebook: The Role of Social Anxiety and Need for Social Assurance in Problematic Use of Facebook (online.liebertpub.com/doi/full/10.1089/cyber.2015.0002),” the authors present the results of a study in U.S. college students. Both social anxiety and the need for social assurance were positive predictors of problematic Facebook use, but the link between social anxiety and excessive use of Facebook was only significant for users who had medium to high levels of need for social assurance, defined as a strong desire to seek companionship and interact with others. The authors note that the combined social connections capability and messaging features of Facebook may offer an appealing social media environment for users with social anxiety.

Tweets from mobile devices more egocentric

Mobile devices have changed the way we interact with the world. It’s now normal behavior to take selfies or live Tweet an event, but can a mobile device really be an extension of one’s self? A recent study published in the Journal of Communication by researchers at Goldsmiths, Bowdoin College and the University of Maine found that tweets from mobile devices are more likely to employ egocentric language as opposed to non-mobile device Tweets.

The researchers conducted an analysis of tweets to see if presentations of self are more likely to be more egocentric, negative/positive, gendered or communal based on whether users were on a mobile device or using a web based platform.

The researchers found that mobile tweets are not only more egocentric in language than any other group, but that the ratio of egocentric to non-egocentric tweets is consistently greater for mobile tweets than from non-mobile sources. They also did not find that mobile tweets were particularly gendered. Regardless of platform, tweets tended to employ words traditionally associated as masculine.

Previous studies have linked activities performed face-to-face (e.g. eating dinner) to tweets from a particular source. And there has been research that aims to classify tweets as belonging to a particular sentiment by using word lists. This is one of the first studies to take a look at how mobile versus non-mobile plays a part in the language used on social media.

(Do We Tweet Differently From Our Mobile Devices? A Study of Language Differences on Mobile and Web-Based Twitter Platforms, by Dhiraj Murthy, Sawyer Bowman, Alexander J. Gross, and Marisa McGarry; Journal of Communication, doi:10.1111/jcom.12176)

Use of private social media affects work performance

In a new study, Use of Social Network Sites at Work: Does it Impair Performance?, Postdoctoral Fellow Cecilie Schou Andreassen and colleagues at the University of Bergen’s Department of Psychosocial Science looked at the consequences of the use of social media during working hours.

Every day, more than one billion people worldwide use social media. This habit has also invaded the workplace, as some research reports that four out of five employees use social media for private purpose during working hours.

Surprisingly, although this type of distraction may potentially harm the well-being of organisations, no studies of this relationship have been conducted until now.

The goal for Andreassen’s study was to conduct a survey that specifically assessed the use of social network sites for personal purposes during working hours, and whether such use is related to self-reported work performance – controlling for basic demographic, personality, and work-related variables.

The study shows that use of social media during working hours can impair performance at work and also harm the well-being of organisations. The overall finding of the University of Bergen study is that this type of distraction has a negative effect on self-reported work performance. However, the effects may be regarded as slight enough to be irrelevant, with no practical importance.

On the other hand, the study’s results cannot rule out that use of online social network sites for personal purposes actually stimulates creativity and inspires some workers. Also, it cannot be ruled out that use of online social network sites aids performance, particularly if workers are interacting with their co-workers through these sites. However, this study explicitly focused on the use of online social network sites for personal purposes at work; use involving communication with co-workers was therefore excluded as a study focus.

Employers typically fear financial loss due to employees cyber loafing. Thus, research on this topic is important for organisations and their employees.

The social web of things

Research published in the International Journal of Web-Based Communities suggests that the familiar interfaces of online social networking sites might be adapted to allow us to interact more efficiently with our networked devices such as cars, domestic appliances and gadgets. The concept would also extend to the idea of those devices connecting with each other as necessary to improve efficiency of heating and lighting, make our home entertainment systems smarter and much more.

Are you Facebook friends with your microwave oven, is your car? Does your washing machine have a blog read by the tumble drier? Ever thought of following your lighting circuit on Twitter, would it make sense to have the electric curtain controllers do so? Well, such whimsical ideas are perhaps a little far-fetched at first glance. There are some precedents. One might follow a movie and TV streaming site on Twitter and use a connection tool to automatically control what output you record for later viewing on the TV but only if a web review site you also follow gives it a five-star review perhaps. You might even have a link between the items you flag as good or bad that then filter into Facebook updates, as many people do with the music they listen to on Spotify. The combinations seem limitless.

More mundane applications involving the lighting and heating in your home exist that allow you to have the thermostat switch on the heating before you come home either when you send it a text but also perhaps when a weather update from twitter forecasts snow. The Internet of Things is with us already as more and more domestic and other devices are hooked up to the internet and so their sensors and readouts become accessible via a web browser or to other software and apps on your smart phone become the norm for controlling a wide range of gadgets.

The next step is the development of a “social internet of things” that allows people and their gadgets to be more coherently connected. We now use online social networks as a surrogate and as a supplement to many of the activities we once were able only to do offline without digital assistance. As the internet of things evolves, there is the potential to bring together this world and to use it to enhance and make more efficient our use of refrigerators, microwave ovens, TVs, cars, cell phones and other devices to improve quality of life. In some circumstances and for many applications, the people will not even be needed, our gadgets will interact through the infrastructures of social networks without our input. One would hope, of course, that automatic thermostats listening to the weather forecast on twitter and checking up on your business trip schedule would not override the logic of not turning on the air conditioning in an empty house. Online tools such as IFTTT, which stands for “IF this, THEN that”, allows users to connect web applications, their smart phone, online social networks and a range of cloud services and some networked devices, such as the aforementioned lighting and heating.

This anthromorphizing of connected appliances gives us an instantly comprehensible interface, so that one might message the house thermometers to get the temperature and then tell the thermostats to switch on the heating on our command. But, the same architecture could then be extended to remove the intermediate, us, from the equation and so give us domestic bliss with minimal intervention on our part.